We would like to acknowledge the efforts of the Forest Service for taking on this difficult issue. We are pleased to see that the Travel Management Plan Decision will provide some benefits to wildlife and fisheries and end cross country travel and the associated destructive impacts. However, the Decision does not adequately protect Inventoried Roadless Areas, designating 70 miles of motorized routes through these wild lands.
The Decision does not go far enough to protect elk from motorized vehicle disturbance. Of the 17 critical elk habitat areas identified in the project area, six will see no measurable increase in elk habitat security. Measureable reductions in road densities in these areas would prevent elk from leaving the National Forest for nearby private lands.
The Decision designates 75 miles of motorized trails within riparian areas, a threefold increase over the original proposed action (Alt. 2 in the DEIS). Within old growth forests the Decision designates 69 miles of motorized routes, 16 miles more than the Natural Heritage Alternative, the alternative based on HCPC’s comments (Alt. 6 in the DEIS). These sensitive areas warrant a greater emphasis on protection from the negative impacts of motorized vehicles.
Moreover, although the Forest Service Decision acknowledges that the Natural Heritage Alternative is the best choice for the natural resources of the Wallowa Whitman National Forest (e.g. wildlife, fish, forests, air and water quality), the Decision still designates 492 more miles of motorized routes on the Forest than the Natural Heritage Alternative.
While there are certainly some positive parts to this Decision, we would have preferred a greater level of protection for the incredible natural resources of the Wallowa Whitman National Forest and opportunities for non-motorized recreation and solitude as outlined by the Natural Heritage Alternative. The Decision designates 3,065 miles of open motor vehicle roads, enough miles to drive from La Grande to Miami, Florida to enjoy some Cuban cuisine and catch a Dolphins football game. And this does not include the roads in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and other areas that add another 1,235 miles for a grand total of 4,300 miles of roads open to motor vehicles within the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. This is more than enough roads to provide sufficient access to our Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
David Mildrexler, Ecosystem Conservation Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org